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Monday, August 24, 2009

Rediscovering Sheaf Stout

Although I don't welcome my incipient obsolescence, accompanied as it is by more frequent failures of this jalopy I call a body, it does afford me a benefit or two. One is a memory of standing in front of a beer case that did not contain microbrewed beers. (Or very few. My 21st birthday was in 1989, but this post-dated the event I describe. In the mid-80s, it is likely Oregon grocery shelves contained the first vanguard of the micros--Redhook, Sierra Nevada, and certainly Anchor--but I don't recall them specifically. The first locally-brewed micro appeared on Oregon's shelves in 1987. Whether my standing in front of these shelves pre-dated that, well, some facts are more interesting when presented as mysteries.)

Instead, Oregonians encountered most of their early micro on tap, so when they visited grocery stores, their taste buds enlivened by Widmer, McMenamin's, and BridgePort, they had only strange-looking imported beers to entice them. The Mexican beers did not count, but beyond that, we had little to sample. One of the most exotic I bought--though admittedly we're getting off into the weeds here--was Russkoye, a Kiev-made beer from the Soviet Union. I was shocked by this discovery, a Ukrainian beer just short months (years?) after Chernobyl. A terrible beer, but one of the crown jewels of my bottle collection.

One of the beers readily available was Sheaf Stout, a beer originally brewed by Tooth and Company (original name: "Tooth's Sheaf Stout"--even more peculiar). In those early days, I was a huge fan of Terminator Stout, which seemed as close to being the opposite of Hamm's I could find. My life-long love affair with stouts was in the infatuation stage, but I might have forsaken the style were it not for Sheaf. I recall it as being a hell of a beer. Even burlier than Terminator, not a bit sweet--casual drinkers thought it punishing and beyond the pale. I was also a big fan of industrial music, and one wouldn't have been out of line in accusing me of just trying to be cool.

And yet I did love it. I loved it enough that on Saturday night, when I saw a bottle in a grocery store in Manzanita, I paused every so briefly before buying it. (Sally and I made an impromptu trip to the coast over the weekend, and perhaps I was in an adventuresome mood.) The trouble with beers one discovered in the 80s and loved is that, twenty years on, they almost always disappoint. Our palates change and our memories lie and we end up feeling wistful, like we'd lost something valuable from our youth.

The story has a happy ending, though. Even as we drove back to our hotel room, I began ratcheting down my expectations. By the time I took my first sip, I expected something like a fizzy lager with a dash of caramel coloring. Of course, it wasn't. It was as intense as I recalled, if different. I remembered it as huge and malty, whereas it's actually a sharp dry stout (5.7%). It's got a luxurious bitter, equal parts tar and tobacco and a touch of sourness. I suspected that it was brewed with a lager yeast--it finishes out very dryly and there's not a hint of ester. Jackson says no, or did, a decade ago. The intensity is such that each mouthful pulls your attention back, but not so much that you don't almost immediately want another pull. It's not exactly a session stout, but it's in the ballpark. Two pints and you wouldn't suffer in the morning.

I will put it on my short list for satisfying stouts. After twenty years, it's back in the rotation.


  1. Nice little post Jeff!. We can relate to some of your internal disappointments of trying beers twenty years after the fact.

    One statement that the Wort Crew finds rather sad.... "...(Oregonians) they had only strange-looking imported beers to entice them."

    So sad! Honestly! This may excuse "some" of the lack of interest and respect of the classic styles and their country of origin. Something we find so readily in the NW. Sometimes it sounds like people in NW think Ales originally were brewed in Oregon. Ignorance is not bliss.... It's just ignorance.... ;-}

    That said, the Wort Crew grew up in California and had "Liquor Barn," an all-purpose large liquor store. Yes! Beer, wine, liquor, etc. You know, "liquor stores", like those in states that HAVE modernized their liquors law since Prohibition. ;-}

    Those crazy California's with their newfangled ideas!

    Liquor Barn carried quite the Imported selection. Most of us remember before craft beers were on the shelf too, but we honed our palates on a plethora of the classic styles. Pale ales and IPA's from England. REAL Hefe-Weizen's and Bock's from Germany.

    DW can remember drinking and comparing Fullers, Youngs, Bass and Watney's to our American craft brewed newbees. Drinking a Samuel Smith Russian Imperial Stout in 1985! There was NOTHING to compare it to! Young's Old Nick Barley wine was compared with Old Foghorn from Anchor.

    Lagers? We drank plenty of Spaten, EKU, Paulaner and others. I remember my first EKU 28 and my first Rauch in 1987.

    Yes.... DW doesn't look back with too much disappointment. We look back and relish those years of discovery. There is nothing like your first tasting experiences.

  2. Wow, doc, I'm shocked to hear you describe Oregon as sucking whilst California is nirvana. That's a rather bold and original stand for you to take.

    And this business of pluralizing yourself--that's gotta stop. It's bad enough that there's one anonymous codger out there, but a phantom team of you, all speaking in the royal "we," is too much to handle. Speak for yourself, man--

  3. Wow Haven't had a Tooth's Sheaf in years. First drank in Colorado in 1986. WIll have to find some and try again. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Yes...Tooth's Sheaf in the late 80's, at the vanguard of my search for good beer. For a few months there we actually drove across town to the grocery store that carried Sheaf. However, I had Guinness in the bottle before that. Where I grew up Sheaf was a grocery store beer and Guinness a liquor store beer. Didn't they have Guinness in Oregon then?

  5. "We" gets hard to type because only one person posts at a time. Maybe we should just use the DW2 and DW3 identifiers. Yes, there is more than one DW. In fact, we have a couple people wanting to join the Wort team. "WE" need to just work out individual monikers.

    "Wow, doc, I'm shocked to hear you describe Oregon as sucking whilst California is nirvana."

    So quick to judge, Jeff? That's usually the Doctor's approach... ;-}
    Remember, we're speaking about the past. Reminiscing. Today, Oregon has far better access to Imports than California. I (DW2) have friends who come from CA and stock up on the huge beer selection that can be acquired at our Beer Shops.
    So, DW hasn't really taken any stance, just telling a story.

    Today, world beer access and appreciation is at our door step. The roles have been reversed over the past 20 years.

    Oregon vs California beer? That's a long discussion.

  6. Jeff, I haven't had a Sheaf in ages; likely since the mid-80's. I'm glad to hear that some beers hold up to our memories of them. So few don't, but part of that may be the generally low quality of imports I've had on the West Coast. Sadly there seem to be more tired, oxidized examples than good ones. I guess we have too much good local beer to allow for much turnover in imports. In NY, we used to get fresher imports. I'm spoiled I guess.

    Doctor Wort, I hestitate to reply, but:
    "This may excuse "some" of the lack of interest and respect of the classic styles and their country of origin."

    Maybe it's because we're not as hung up on style. Just a thought. "Style" as a concept in beer is completely overrated. Even Fred Eckhardt will tell you that. Outside of a competition, does it matter what style a beer is? Do you really like a beer better if it's labeled Porter as opposed to Stout, or American PA instead of IPA? To me, it's ludicrous. A good beer is a good beer. A bad beer is a bad beer, no matter what "style" you want to call it. Most styles are products of the last 30 years anyway.

    What is it with beer geeks and style? When I was in the wine business on the East Coast (the same time that you were all drinking imported beers on the West Coast), I don't think I ever heard anyone ever say "this Ribera Del Duoro isn't too style" or "this Margaux is too much like a Pauillac, so I can't rate it well." How boring would beer be if it were all "brewed to style."

  7. @Average Bill

    You just don't get it and I'm tired of trying to explain it....

    Obviously, you can't comprehend having respect for the Beer Classics, their origin or that they are the backbone of all brewing. Funny... Michael Jackson did, as do many others.

    If you don't understand Beer Geeks, who do you understand?

    Maybe you're just one of those guys who say, "I know want I like." Which should be followed by.. But I don't know what it is....

  8. "As more breweries open and more beers are introduced or available in new markets, consumers may feel overwhelmed. Understanding beer starts with understanding style."

    - Michael Jackson


  9. "The modern concept of beer style is largely based on the work of writer Michael Jackson in his 1977 book The World Guide To Beer in which he categorised a variety of beers from around the world into local style groups according to local customs and names.[1] In 1989, Fred Eckhardt furthered Jackson's work publishing The Essentials of Beer Style[2]. Although the systematic study of beer styles is a modern phenomenon, the act of distinguishing between different varieties of beer is ancient and widespread, dating to at least 2000 BC."


  10. "What's a beer style? Simply put, a beer style is a label given to a beer that describes its overall character and often times its origin. It's a name badge that has been achieved over many centuries of brewing, trial and error, marketing, and consumer acceptance."

    -Beer Advocate

  11. Bill, I agree, and I think that as the American beer scene matures, slavishness to style will abate somewhat. It helps that styles are getting twisted so quickly that style-setters can't keep up. Soon we'll all say, 'ah, the he'll with it.'

  12. Wow! Not even any respect for the history of brewing and beer styles. Amazing!

    Hell... Why not just put "Atomic Puke" on a label and let the buyer guess what's in the bottle? Better yet! No fricken label at all...?

    So far, most beers are still brewed within a classic beer style "base." That means it's based on an original style of beer and then tweaked... But STILL brewed within a beer style.

    Of course, who cares about those traditional Classic base beers! No one seems to want to learn about them, their history or purpose.

    I'm totally disgusted at the lack of respect...

  13. I was hoping this discussion might make its way onto the DW site, but the only new post is a cut & paste of the upcoming Fermentation Fest- with no commentary to boot. Sounds like the Wort Crew is more concerned with a jihad against Jeff than actually attempting to educate the masses. And why? Is Beervana so out of line that it needs to bombarded with examples that pertain to a narrow focus on Beer Style? I don't believe so, and yet these Trollish barrages continue, twisting the meanings of Average Bill and Alworth's comments to mean whatever they want them to mean.
    Why not discuss Category 23 beers, or give examples of why the brewing industry is doomed unless we put the kabosh on experimentation? Anything besides these constant, juvenile put-downs and know-it-all-isms, or barring that, link to your blog where you can bash freely and leave this blog to wallow in its "ignorance". I look forward to the day when the Mike Winslows of the internet grow up and allow real discussion without succumbing to schoolyard name-calling and lowest common-denominator arguments. If you need to be so right about everything than take it to a different forum. This one will do just fine without Mike Winslow and his lackeys.

  14. DW, just the tirade I would expect.

    You can understand style and the history of style (although most people's understanding of the history of specific beer styles is in fact largely inaccurate) but not be a complete slave to style.

    Style is a convenience in describing beer, not an end all. But for style nazis, "style" is a crutch and they can't discuss any beer outside of it. People need to remember that styles change and aren't written in stone.

  15. The Fonz feels your pain6:58 AM, August 25, 2009

    Like I said before...Dr. Wort has jumped the shark.

  16. I have to do this in two parts because I'm loquacious. A further, longer rebuttal:
    "So far, most beers are still brewed within a classic beer style "base." That means it's based on an original style of beer and then tweaked... But STILL brewed within a beer style.

    Of course, who cares about those traditional Classic base beers! No one seems to want to learn about them, their history or purpose."

    The "traditional" word will get you into trouble there, Doc. What do you define as "traditional" for each beer style? For example:

    1. "Traditional" stout from 1850 is considerably different from "traditional" stout in 1960. Prior to 1880, stouts didn't use roasted barley because it was illegal, but nowadays it's generally considered an essential ingredient in stouts. One could make a quite legitimate argument that modern stouts aren't "traditional" because of its use of roasted barley.

    2. "Traditional" mild from 1850, 1900 and 1950 are again radically different in color and strength. Should we judge modern Mild by its 1850 standard where most were Pale and many of them were as strong as modern day Barleywines? If 1850 is the benchmark, none of the Milds produced today are "traditional." Or maybe we should judge it by the 1900 standard. After all, Mild was the most popular style in England in 1900-1910, so perhaps if we want to be "traditionalists" we should use popularity amongst consumers and sales to define a period that would constitute "traditional."

    3. Fuller's ESB was developed in the mid-1960's, and although it's a brand name in the UK, it's become a "style" in the US. Luckily, even the BJCP has renamed the category "strong bitter" instead of ESB, but many people (including the Doc in his quiz online) think of it as a "traditional" style. Is a style based upon a single beer created 40 years ago "traditional"?

    4. Northern vs Southern Brown. Is there a "traditional" definition that supports the current definition between the two, or does it come from Michael Jackson essentially creating these "styles" based upon Mann's and Newcastle, which in the 1970's were pretty much the only existing Brown Ales. Brewing records from before 1950 don't support a "dark and sweet" Sourthern style vs. a "lighter/nuttier" Northern Style. So should we still be placing a label on these styles from an observation from the 1970's or should we revise the styles based upon a broader and longer historical look?

    See part 2

  17. Part 2

    5. Doppelbocks in Bavaria between 1850 and 1900 generally had terminal gravities of 1.030 or more and attenuations of only 50-60%. Should we consider that the "traditional" standard, or do we want to go by the newer, modern definition, where the beers are considerably drier? Tell me which one is "traditional" and why it's a more valid definition?

    6. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale used to be considered an aggressivley hopped APA, but by current standards, it's not really that hoppy. Maybe Sierra Nevada needs to revamp the beer to fit the new definition of the style, or maybe we should disqualify APA's with over 40 IBU's. Look at how IPA's have changed in 15 years. 50 IBU's was a lot 15 years ago, but 70+ is pretty standard today. That's a 40% increase in 15 years. The modern conception of IPA is so completely different to what it was 100-150 years ago. What happened to tradition? Why do brewer's insist on making these new fangled, non "tradtional" beers? Don't they know there are "style guidelines"?

    7. Pilsners used to be made by decoction because of low malt modification but now the vast majority are made with highly modified malts in a single infusion mash. Is that still traditional?

    I could go on and on. Yes, beers are brewed in large frameworks, but these are constantly changing and sticking to a rigid idea of "style" and "tradition" is ludicrous because these things change with consumer tastes. And they often change radically in short amounts of time. (Again look at Mild, strong and pale to weak and dark in 40 years). If you want to stick to "tradition" you need to define that as a period of time for each "style." But those distinctions can end up being quite arbitrary and perhaps say more abut the person creating the definition than about the beers themselves.

    Bottomline: styles change and the idea of "tradition" is really arbitrary, so clinging strongly to style guidelines is of dubious merit.

  18. Nice job...Average Bill.

  19. Wow... Once again, people missed my point.

    Beer Styles evolve... Yes, I know! Do we need to brew to a narrow specific Style? NO! That's not what I'm frickin saying! Can you people get beyond that asinine mind frame?!! I'm talking about maintaining and respecting an evolving system of categorizing beer styles and their profiles, period.

    I'm NOT saying we all need to brew to style! I'm saying we need to respect the heritage of the classic styles, not keep reproducing them!

    I'm reading things like:

    Average Bill stated, ""Style" as a concept in beer is completely overrated."

    Jeff stated, "It helps that styles are getting twisted so quickly that style-setters can't keep up. Soon we'll all say, 'ah, the he'll with it.'

    That was the basis if my dispute. Style identification was what brought us to where we are today.

    Yes, styles evolve. Anyone who has read DW knows he talks about beer evolution quite often and promotes experimentation of new beers.

    Apparently, some of you don't really follow DW, but are quick to judge any stance the Doctor takes.

    My argument is that we can't lose the concept of style identification. Yes it evolves and changes, but categorizing style and style profiles has been done for thousands of years.

    If for no other reason in modern day, identifying style to use for PROPER advertising a product. People want to know what they are buying. That's a pretty simple argument for maintaining styles, categories and profiles.

    I'm sure others have had more inspiring reasons! Fred had said, "Style doesn't matter?" I believe that.... depending on the context it was stated. No matter what the context, at one point in his life he had a passion and dedication to write a book on "Essentials of Beer Style." Was that meaningless? A waste of time? To have the passion and put in the time to categorize every known style of beer in the world. Was Fred's work a waste of time in a current world that doesn't want to bother with style categorizing?

    I don't think so....

    Did Michael Jackson waste his time too? He traveled the globe categorizing and profiling beers all over the world. Was he just a fool?

    I don't think so!

    Before Michael Jackson was Jean DeClerck who wrote a brewing text book about brewing, style profiling and the like. He was Michael Jackson's and Fred's inspiration.

    The Siebel Institute of Technology, the American premier brewing institute for brewing science will be republishing DeClerck's Brewing Text. Why? The association notes that "There are very few definitive texts on the subject of brewing science and one of the best [DeClerck's book] has been unavailable for a number of years."

    Was he just a fool too?

    I don't think so!

    So....? Does any of this mean anything to you people?

    @Average Bill

    Congratulations, you've read some beer history...! So have I! You probably spewed out more Beer Style Facts this Blog has seen in three years. It's all good stuff, hope some readers learn or become interested from your post.

    For our little discussion, you could have simply said, "Styles Evolve." Period!

    "Tradition" also floats with the times. Maybe it wasn't the best word for me to use.


    Do you have something to add or are you just whining? Do you have an opinion about Beer categorizing or do you just want to whine about DW attitude?

    You criticize DW's voice, yet hypocritically respond with a similar berating voice. Way to make a point, Einstein!

    "Wallow in it's ignorance," Great line!

  20. @ Dr Wort
    First, let me say I'm not trying to bash what you're stating (well not completely anyway). I don't want to completely throw out style because it it does have value as a convenient way of grouping beers together. But I'd be happy to see it's place diminished. What "style" a beer is shouldn't be the single most important facet about it. I'd rather focus on whether or not it's any good or not.

    "For our little discussion, you could have simply said, "Styles Evolve." Period!"

    No, I couldn't, because you always seem to require a detailed answer, and would later argue that it was an inadequate response. Hence the diatribe, but I'm glad you liked the content.

    ""Tradition" also floats with the times. Maybe it wasn't the best word for me to use."

    But it is the word you used and the word that best describes what you were trying to say that beer styles have to be looked at in an historical framework. But that's my point, "tradition" is too subjective, is largely academic and has little bearing on how most styles are perceived today. Is it interesting? Immensely so to me, but I don't think it's the primary pillar of beer literacy.

    I would be far happier if people focused more on beer quality as opposed to style. I think it's a lot more important to be able to identify diacetyl than it is to know how the Free Mash Tun Act of 1880 changed English brewing. Knowing the history of pilsner is pointless if you can't tell that it's oxidized.

    "Congratulations, you've read some beer history...!" Yes quite a lot actually, and I look for things that challenge what I believe because the level of knowledge of beer history and style evolution amongst most (I said most) homebrewers and amateur beer geeks is appallingly bad. Too much Papazian, too few facts. The worst part is that most of them don't want their beliefs challenged and are dogmatic and close minded when historical facts prove them wrong. You can't learn anything if you think you already know everything. (Yes I realize the irony of my saying that).

  21. @Average Bill

    We may be of more like-mind than we want to admit.

    "because the level of knowledge of beer history and style evolution amongst most (I said most) homebrewers and amateur beer geeks is appallingly bad. Too much Papazian, too few facts. The worst part is that most of them don't want their beliefs challenged and are dogmatic and close minded when historical facts prove them wrong. You can't learn anything if you think you already know everything. (Yes I realize the irony of my saying that)."

    The Doctor wished he had said this!

    The Doctors toys between myth, ignorance, education, deception, misdirection and truth. As you say, "Most Home brewers and Beer Geeks" knowledge is appallingly bad.

    The Doctor plays and sometimes prays off this fact which can blur his direction and disclosure of the truth. Dr Wort sometimes fails in providing education and thrives on confrontational arguments. It's easy to throw out half truths to an audience of lesser knowledge. Yea, that's pretty arrogant, but true.

    You have been admirable opponent within a debate, something I rarely find in these blogs. I tip my hat to your beer knowledge and debate prowess.

    Your detailed argument was highly commendable.

  22. DW, you're welcome. I find less controversy helps (but I understand the appeal of a flame war). But being less confrontational helps to engender actual discussion and debate. Everyone tends to get less defensive when they don't feel they're being attacked personnally. Plus people are more apt to listen to what you have to say and weigh facts that may seem contrary to what they've been taught.

    I understand the schtick and idea of DW's character, but really do prefer civil discussions. Anyway, cheers to all.

  23. Jeebus, there's enough hot air coming from "the wort crew" to fill a hot air balloon.

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  25. As a Sydney-sider myself, I was quite surprised to come across a bottle of Sheaf Stout in a deli in San Francisco in 1994. Who'd have thunk?